The leap into entrepreneurship

Written by Tom Fairey

10 March, 2022

Are you ready to make the leap into entrepreneurship?

Nick Braund spent a lot of time wondering that very question.

Braund was an experienced PR exec, with years of success under his belt, including being an account manager, head of PR and social media, communications manager and, most recently,  head of technology at The PHA Group. Along the way he was highly commended by PR Week and named the Young PR Professional of the Year by PRmoment.

But he felt had more to achieve.

Those accolades left him wondering what else was out there. He found that when, in January 2020, he launched his own agency, Words + Pixels.

Braund had created a brand before and spent much time wondering why he was drawn to certain products -- say, the t-shirts from Abercrombie & Fitch or the swoosh-embossed shoes from Nike. Each brand, he realized, had its own cachet -- for Nike, for example, it was the heritage, the people associated with it, and the media surrounding it.

That realization captured his imagination and helped him to work with a variety of brands to develop their narrative. 

Communicating narratives was his gift.

“I got passionate about the practice of working with a company, taking their message and what is amazing about them, and communicating that,” he told me recently on my podcast.

Thirteen years into his career, his focus has not changed, although his workplace setting has. Words + Pixels has seen phenomenal growth and now has 10 staff. Among its top accomplishments? Placing the top-ranked BBC story globally for the Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup.

Leaving his old employer and striking out on his own was among the toughest decisions he’s ever made, he told me.

“It was like breaking up with someone that was the best person I’ve ever been with,” he said. “There was fear of the unknown. I did not know what was out there. And looking at the last year, no one could know what was in the future.”

But, ultimately, what led Braund away was an intrinsic understanding of PR — what it was and what it was not.

Guess what? PR is not rocket science.

“PR as a practice is understanding a story and the narrative and how you communicate that to the right audience,” he said.

At Words + Media, Braund found he could create compelling relationships with brands that were on a parallel journey to his—companies that were disrupting the fields and industries they were in, who were scaling up, who were looking at old landscapes in new ways and growing quickly as their ideas gained traction.

Braund recognized immediately that while the idea was his, he could not run the business as a one-man show. Unfortunately, hiring the right people for your team is not an intrinsic skill.

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is working with companies, founders, and entrepreneurs who came up with something they think is incredible,” Braund told me. 

“Every company starts with one or two sentences,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be cool if … or, wouldn’t it be better if….”

Being in on that was thrilling—in no small part because he had the same idea.

What he needed in a team was the same sort of drive.

What would pull them out of bed each day? That was an open question.

Quickly, Braund realized that while his own drive shaped the agency,  it was his staff who drove a large part of the success.

But how to attract those people was not implicitly easy.

Ultimately, Braund realized he needed to know something about who he was considering bringing on, and to a large extent, he turned to friends, colleagues, and associates—people he trusted. His unique selling proposition was, well, unique.

This was a fresh start.

His staff, he told people he was interviewing, did not have to rely on mundanities like sales targets and timesheets. Instead, they had the chance to create the job they wanted. The rules had been thrown out the window. 

Huge agencies tended to see employees as a cog in the wheel. Not that that was all bad—they could also offer, at times, better pay,  more perks, covered parking. What Braund offered was a chance to reimagine what was possible.

Finding the right people meant balancing the company’s near-term goals with an employee’s near-term goals, and finding the point where those two goals met. The basics could be met — the company had a track record (a small one, admittedly, but one nonetheless) and people would not have to worry that it would close suddenly and they’d wonder how to pay the mortgage.

“You need to let people see how they are going to grow,” he said. With a value proposition like that, he said, “Why would you not give it a go? We are giving you the chance to do exactly what you want to do.”

The result? An incredible year of growth, excellent jobs completed, and different conversations with clients.

Another result: happy staff.

Braund said right away that the work that Words + Pixels performed was not infinitely scalable.

For more entrepreneurs, there’s a draw to bring on as many clients as possible, since after all, more clients creates more income.

What he wanted for Words + Pixels, though, was something manageable. A manageable workload would let staff focus on success more closely. It was fortunate, then, that when the pandemic hit, staff already had the baked-in flexibility to work from home and balance their work and personal lives.

“We were ahead of many more established competitors because that was already where we were,” he said.

Who needs PR?

PR is often overlooked, especially in startups, said Braund, where the task may be given to someone with a limited marketing background.

PR can work for startups the same way it can work for any company: “It’s shouting what they are good at and making sure that message is seen by anyone who might care.” But that message has to be earned—it means convincing an overworked journalist that your story is worth telling.

A PR company can serve as the middle man, connecting the brand, who wants to tell their story,  to the journalist, who is looking for stories to tell.

“PR creates that external trust, and that’s huge,” Braund said. “By doing successful PR, you could grow, you could scale, you could diversify.”

Life hack: Lace your shoes and go for a run

Lately, I have asked people I interview what their life hack is. For Braund, the answer is simple: exercise!

“If I go two, three days without something, I feel like crap,” he said. “My wife will say, Go for a run. 20 minutes. Just go. And every single time without fail I come back and she will say,  Do you feel better? And I’ll say, You know I do. That’s my crutch.”

The Takeaway

Entrepreneurship is about fresh starts and novel ideas. Those who are successful look at old problems with new insight. 

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